First College of Vet Med dean finalist holds open forum


Courtesy of the College of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Spencer Johnston is the department head of small animal medicine and surgery at Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Tristan Wade

Dr. Spencer Johnston participated in an open forum Thursday as the first of the four finalists for the College of Veterinary Medicine dean position.

The college announced Johnston’s finalist position Wednesday morning.

Johnston opened his forum by discussing his own history. He is from Greensburg, Pennsylvania and has attended or worked at five different college or universities, including Pennsylvania University, Michigan State University, Virginia Tech University and the University of Georgia in two stints, which is where Johnston currently works.

“What I take the greatest reward in [after my experiences] stepping back and helping others solve problems, by planting seeds and watching the programs and individuals grow,” Johnston said.

In his presentation, Johnston outlined the vision that he would bring to the college as a dean. His vision touched on topics such as a culture of respect, work and life balance, research, the diagnostics lab, veterinary education and students specifically.

Even with all of his points, Johnston emphasized his desire is not to rework the college as a whole.

“I think it would be a huge mistake for anyone coming in here to be a dean to try to reorder and reprioritize [the strategic priorities],” Johnston said.

One of the top points of Johnston’s vision was promoting a culture of respect within the college. He pointed to a number of issues a lack of respect can cause, such as ignoring others and selfishness.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t have a systemic disrespect occur, where the the institution starts to ask too much of people, and then people feel disrespected themselves, and a breakdown occurs,” Johnston said.

Work-life balance is another aspect Johnston found to be essential for a successful college. He said he wants the College of Vet Med to be looked at as desirable because of a favorable work-life balance.

Johnston was not shy to point to areas of his own background where he has less experience, which is in the area of research. 

“I don’t have an extensive background in high-level, USDA funded, [National Institute of Health] research, that’s just a given,” Johnston said.

He said he would rely heavily on the dean’s advisors for this topic, a group of advisors that he sees as a strong support system.

A topic for the College of Vet Med that has been of importance is the funding of a new Veterinary Diagnostic Lab which needs $124 million to complete. Johnston said being apart of this new project would be an exciting opportunity.

In Johnston’s current position at the University of Georgia, he was on the design team for a new teaching hospital for their veterinary medicine college. Johnston would want to bring some of the aspects of that design to the building plans of a new diagnostics lab.

These aspects include efficiency, biosecurity, interaction areas and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status. 

Another focus of Johnston’s vision was students, specifically in the area of diversity. He cited data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) that ranked the diversity of the vet med colleges across the nation.

Based on that data, Iowa State’s College of Vet Med ranks far below the United States average of “presence of racially and ethnically underrepresented students at U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine” with a presence of 7.4 percent compared to a national average of 17.4 percent.

“The vision would be that we try to move that number up to at least the national average, and we do that with recruitment and partnering with other universities,” Johnston said.

Johnston also said reaching out to high schools earlier, putting summer programs in place and engaging with students organizations can also advance this goal.

Currently, Johnston is the department chair for the small animal medicine and surgery department at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Three more finalists for the College of Vet Med dean will be announced throughout February, with three more open forums happening on Feb. 6, 12 and 19.

The forums each are from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. in room 2532 in the Veterinary Medicine building. There is an online form for feedback after each forum and paper forms at each forum.

While Johnston has been to a number of universities in his career, he isn’t looking to keep moving around.

“I figured I have one more move left in my career,” Johnston said.